The Church (Photo Blog)

One week ago ago I was sitting on a wooden bench under an open-air tent in Zimbabwe. Hundreds of students sat around me, eyes locked on a pastor passionately sharing about what it means to live for God and love others.

In the stillness that followed, light shining in from all sides, I was reminded that this is the Church. No building, no walls, no slideshows, no instruments required—just people sharing the love and truth of Christ with one another.

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We spoke the Lord’s Prayer and its power swept over me. 

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

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We lived life together and reveled in the joy that only comes from the Lord.

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My team stood in awe of the hospitality and love so freely given.

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Before this trip I prayed for healing—for those we would come into contact with, for the team and for myself. The Lord answered my prayer in a way I couldn't have expected. The people we met are the definition of sweetly broken, poured out for their Creator. Through overwhelming joy He has made them whole again—He has made us all whole again. I was and am humbled to be part of the Church with them.

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"I will greatly rejoice in the Lordmy soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations." -Isaiah 61:10-11

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American Mama

When I asked if it was okay to give the tiny gift I brought to my sponsored child while the other kids were still around, our Zimbabwe Country Director replied, "Oh it's okay, all the kids know you're her American Mama."

What?! 

This was the first time I was meeting my sweet sponsored child and I'm not going to lie to you, I had sent her a total of one letter in the year I had been sponsoring her (and I work for VisionTrust for goodness sakes). I felt under-qualified for the title of Mama in any context; I barely knew her and hadn't given her the opportunity to know me.  I realized how many people were in the same boat as me when I watched kids at our Learning Center be called up one by one to claim a letter from their sponsor. So many of the kids in the crowd were left without.

A week after Zimbabwe I led a team to the Dominican Republic.  Right when we entered our transitional home, each girl tried to find their sponsor or ask (if they weren't there) if you knew them. As we toured their rooms it was impossible not to notice the letters and pictures of sponsors taped lovingly next to bunk beds. The girls would point to the pictures and tell you the name of each person and even animal present. They wanted to know everything they could about their "American Family."

If these trips taught me anything, it's that as a sponsor I get the opportunity to love on my dear girl from an ocean away, to encourage her, to tell her she is special and Jesus loves her...and I hadn't taken advantage of it.

I promised myself I would be better at writing, and I've improved, but only minutely. (Let's be real, I've been meaning to write this blog post since October.) It's not always easy to take the time, but I promise you, there is a kid on the other side of the world that wants to know you and needs your encouragement.

So, here's to writing more consistently, who's with me?

PS- A really easy way I've found to write is to email my letter and attached pictures to 

childletters@visiontrust.org.

Working the Field (A Village Morning)

Suza woke us up at 5am.  I use the term woke very lightly as the night didn't provide much sleep. Only a thin thatch mat separated us from the hard concrete floor of the hut.

I climbed out of my sleeping bag and followed the two boys into the soft morning light of the village. There was no complaining, no pouty faces, just a common and calculated barefoot walk to the dirt field beyond the hut.

This morning, like every one leading up to the rainy season, was to be filled with "growing God's way." It's the typical type of gardening in the village. They (grandma, Suza and the two boys) hit the ground with hoes, creating rows of holes and hills of dirt. Moses, the youngest (who was allowed to sleep in this morning), would normally go around and put a seed and manure in the hole.  Then all that's left is to wait and pray for rain.

My boss and I felt of little use, so we jumped at the chance to help. Pointing to the next place on an invisible grid, Suza directed us where to make the hole. They made it look so easy, but trust me, it wasn't.  For each hole they took about three strokes and I took about ten. This was not soft soil, oh no, and after two holes I could feel every muscle in my body aching clearly.

Our family laughed with us at our weak attempts, patiently directing us on how to stand and where to hit the soil.  I'm afraid we were more of a distraction than a help, so we focused on our filming while they completed their work.

I couldn't help but stare at the boys bare feet, covered in dirt. I suppose it was easier that way, easier than getting mounds of dirt stuck in shoes from the backlash of the hoe. But, I marveled at how close the sharp end of the tool would come to those little toes.

I really can't describe why, but being out there with our village family was such a spiritual experience.  Their life, so different from the one I have led, is still sweet and full of love. And for one brief day I got to share in that love; share in the work God is doing in their lives;  share in the Kingdom of God.  And it was beautiful to join in as they sowed seeds and prayed for life.

Matthew 13:8, "Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

The Village

Our second night in the Zimbabwe, we (my team of 5) split up and spent the night in Ngundu village.

Ngundu looks exactly like you might picture. We were there in the dry season, the anticipated rains just a few weeks away, so the brown dirt stretched in every direction. Huts, mud walls with thatch roofs, dotted the landscape in clusters of two or three. One for the family, another for storage or the "kitchen" and maybe another for Grandma. The trees were tall and full, similar to those found in The Lion King (it's a classic for a reason people).

Our huts for the night belonged to Suza, her son, her two nephews, her mother and her brother.  Her sister and brother-in-law had both died, as had her husband. Death is all too common here.  

She welcomed us with a friendly smile and gestured for us to sit on the mat and water jugs she had placed in the open space between the huts. They had 3 huts and a tiny tiny shed (I hesitate to even call it that) which I learned the next morning housed more goats than seemed possible (picture a clown car full of goats).

As we sat, my boss Matt and I couldn't help but turn our heads up to the heavens and soak in the stars. I'll admit, in Colorado when one ventures into the great outdoors they get a pretty good glimpse of the stars, undisturbed by city bustle. But, these stars! Over and over again I just kept repeating how beautiful they were.  

The Shack describes these stars well, "Of all the places he sensed the presence of God, out here surrounded by nature and under the stars was one of the most tangible. He could almost hear the song of worship they sang to their Creator, and in his reluctant heart he joined in as best he could."

Matt Reed was able to snag this photo of the night sky. How cool is this??

Of course Suza and the kids just kept laughing. This was their backyard. Can you imagine? Every night they cook and clean under this mural. How funny were we to be taken aback by the normal? 

When we were alone she offered to cook sadza for me. I tried to politely decline, but if you've ever been to Africa you know you really can't decline their sweet generosity. She and her mother laughed because I'd never eaten sadza; laughter came so easily in their household. The entire time I watched Suza cook, her mother stood quietly outside her hut repeating "sadza" and laughing to herself. 

Methodically Suza fanned the fire and placed a worn black pot full of water from a nearby jug on top of the flame, shedding a quick stream of light on her face. Sadza is cooked cornmeal that's white and looks a bit like mashed potatoes, but has the consistency and taste of bland play dough. She served it to Matt and I along with the most salty, stringy, unidentified vegetable I've ever had. 

After eating as much as we could, we handed our plates to the three boys, who jumped at the chance to eat some more. But, after only a few bites they surrendered their plates to Suza to save for their breakfast the next morning.

The four sang, raw and beautiful, their prayers before bed. Then all six of us sleepily drifted to one hut to snag as much sleep as possible on the concrete floor before the sun called us to the next day's chores.

Hmm, there's so much to cover...I'll save the next day's events for another blog post :)  

Our sweet village family.

Our sweet village family.

The hut everyone slept in!

The hut everyone slept in!

This one's for Africa

I'm going to Zimbabwe. And it's happening in less then 2 weeks. Holy cow.

Here's the truth. When I started working for VisionTrust and learning about all the sweet countries we're in around the world, I became attached to Zimbabwe. It was the one place I really wanted to go with VisionTrust. If I had a bucket list, it would be on it. Why? Well...

In 2006 the UN stated Zimbabwe has the highest amount of orphans per capita in the world. It is estimated that they have an unemployment rate of 95%. 68% of their population live below the poverty line. It has the 5th highest death toll due to AIDS when compared to every country in the world.

All of these reasons make me want to go.

Plus look how cute these kids are! This is a picture from our VisionTrust project in Zim.

I want to go and love these people. To wrap my mind around the fact that they are not a statistic. To share their stories and live in their shoes, even if I only get to see a tiny glimpse. To help, even if it's only a drop in the bucket. To learn from them. To encounter poverty and what it looks like to truly have a positive impact in a community.

When my boss said we were going to Zimbabwe I was beyond excited, beyond thankful that God clearly put this opportunity in my path. We're going because VisionTrust is in the process of launching a 5 year sustainable program called Million Meals. The gist of the program is to partner with chiefs and villages in remote areas to feed children long-term. If the villages agree to work with us, we'll feed the kids 5 days a week the first year while teaching them sustainable agriculture and leadership. The next year we'll feed the kids 4 days a week and the village will feed them 1, then us 3 days-the village 2, etc. until we're no longer feeding the children and the village is self-sustaining.

Awesome right? So, my boss, three others and I are going to hear stories, take pictures and gather more information on how the project is going and how it'll move forward. Our hope is with this information, people in the US will be moved to help once we officially launch the program.

I would love your prayers for energy, boldness, patience, safety and anything else you can think of as I embark on this adventure. I'll share stories here, so be sure to check back.